Category: alumni post

Alumni Librarians: Elizabeth Bast ’89

Image of Elizabeth BastEditor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series.

Envy. I admit it. That’s what I feel when I think about students in college and graduate school today considering entering the library field (including my son, a current student at Lawrence). Not to be too “back in my day” about it, but when I attended Lawrence in the late ‘80s I can positively state that being a librarian never entered my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my local public library in West Bend, Wisconsin and was a frequent visitor to my school libraries and even the good old Mudd while a student at Lawrence, but it’s hard to describe to students today how much technology and culture have transformed libraries (and the role of the librarian).

Quiet. Sedate. Solitary. The libraries I used to know were filled with knowledge but were not particularly dynamic places. Going to the library (of any kind) meant entering a serious place where mostly silent, individual exploration took place. The stereotypical librarian was a “shusher” with glasses and a prim demeanor. She (typically) served in a gatekeeper role where orderly systems of classification ruled and being a patron had a definite “supplicant” feel. It was not a world I ever envisioned finding the most engaging, dynamic, and fulfilling career of my life. And yet…

If I could have majored in “Liberal Arts” at Lawrence I would have. I was interested in everything and took as long as I possibly could to pick a major, and even then chose one that spanned two disciplines (back then Lawrence had an Anthropology/Sociology department). Plus I threw in an Education minor and earned my teaching license in 7-12 Broad Fields Social Studies. Lawrence made it very difficult to leave the world of learning, so even though I was prepared to enter the classroom as a teacher, I decided to extend my studies into graduate school and entered the Masters in Sociology program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I completed the program with a thesis based on original research on the topic of urban education. After getting married and moving to New York City so my new husband could pursue graduate studies, I entered the world of publishing as an editorial assistant for an editor working on academic titles in the fields of Sociology and Philosophy, while I spent nights teaching GED and ESL classes at a non-profit community organization. Upon returning to Wisconsin three years later I took a job as an academic advisor with a program called Upward Bound, run out of the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan campus and three years after that I became pregnant with my first child and found myself moving again so my husband could pursue his career. Whew.

Taking time off from paid employment to be a stay-at-home parent to my two children was definitely not time wasted (in fact I highly recommend it if money and circumstance allow), but it did create a sizable hole in my resume when I decided to return to the work world when my younger child started Kindergarten. I knew I wanted a career again, a profession that would be part of my identity and allow me to fulfill my potential. Traditional teaching was obviously an option, but I didn’t have the same passion for it that I did when I was younger. I considered other roles within the education field, such as counselor, or reading specialist, because I had really enjoyed the one-on-one relationships I built with students when I worked for Upward Bound, but I knew I needed to go back to school on some level to refresh my knowledge and credentials before anyone would hire me.

I turned to the website for the UW-Milwaukee Graduate School to see what programs were available that might allow me to combine taking courses in-person with an online component, because I still had young kids and driving 35 miles from my home in Racine, Wisconsin was not always possible. It is there, while perusing the various programs, that I first laid eyes on the School of Information Studies (SOIS). Have you ever had one of those moments where everything just came into focus? I was excited and surprised. Course titles like The Organization of Information, Information Access and Retrieval, Metadata, and Information Ethics intrigued me. What sold me was the ability to combine a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) with the certification for a School Library Media Specialist license (K-12) by taking courses like Library Services for Children and Young Adults and Multicultural Children’s Literature. It felt like a great fit, so I enrolled in January of 2008 and never looked back.

How had this field escaped my attention all this time? Well, a little thing called the Internet took over the world in the time since I left Lawrence in 1989, and libraries and librarians have been leading the way as innovators and navigators of this brave new world. Now I work as a Library Media Specialist (sometimes referred to as Teacher Librarian) in a public middle school serving more than 800 students in a very culturally and economically diverse community. I am certainly proud of the collection of books I have selected and curated over the years but I am not the English-major book nerd that is often part of the librarian profile. I approach my profession as a Lawrence graduate, a liberal arts nerd who is fascinated by and knowledgeable about many different fields and topics. I collaborate with my social studies, math, science, art, music, and even gym teachers as much as I do my English faculty. The online world is a wonderful and terrifying place for kids and adults and a large part of my value to my school is my ability to make technology and digital information accessible, manageable, and meaningful. I collaborate, I troubleshoot, I teach, I counsel, I provide inspiration and sometimes refuge. Every day is a different schedule and a different challenge. I get to know and serve every student and teacher in my building. I also have chosen to participate in my profession by serving on task forces and committees for the American Library Association (ALA) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), which is just the cherry on top of my already awesome job because I get to know and work with amazing librarians from around the country. (I’m currently serving on the Odyssey Award 2019 committee which selects the best audiobook created for children each year).

So, yeah. Do I wish I had found this career earlier? Absolutely, but I also recognize that the school library of my childhood was nothing like the one I work in today, so I just have to be grateful that I’m able to spend the 2nd half of my working life in a job I truly love (and also a little envious of those who can embark on a vital career in libraries right out of college).

By Elizabeth Bast, Class of 1989

Alumni Librarians: Emily Passey Vieyra ‘08

Emily (right) with celebrity librarian and author, Nancy Pearl

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

Thanks to the librarian alums who have gone before me on this blog and set the tone of telling the interesting story of how they came to be a librarian! It is one of those professions that prompts that question. From the outside, it’s not totally clear what librarians do. So it’s even less clear why or how someone came to find themselves in the role (other than being big readers, which not all librarians are.)

So here’s my story. During my four years at Lawrence, I was always on what felt like a pretty clear path: I would get really good grades, get my BA, and then go to grad school.

Senior year, I was nearing the end of that path. I had decided to explore journalism after a few years writing and editing for The Lawrentian. I was also armed with the knowledge that, despite working on an Honor’s Project in English, I did not want to pursue higher education in that subject because I did not want to be a professor. After a trip to New York City to explore NYU’s journalism program, I was totally disillusioned. I had a Rory Gilmore moment while there. I was used to being a sort of big fish at a small high school and then in the English department at Lawrence, but visiting a top journalism school in the Big Apple I felt like a single-celled organism floating in the Pacific Ocean. And I felt as spineless as one, too. In the end I graduated and then moved home with no plan.

Through twists and turns, I found myself 18 months post-Lawrence doing the tremendously unsatisfying work of a classified ad salesperson at a newspaper in North Dakota. One day I was walking my dogs and listening to a podcast of the public radio show, To The Best of Our Knowledge (produced right here in Wisconsin!). They were talking about public libraries, and profiled a book called This Book is Overdue! which I promptly went to the library to check out. In pretty quick succession, I applied for grad school, moved to Illinois, and spent two amazing years at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign studying library science and working as a graduate assistant at the Undergraduate Library. Yes, Lawrentians: they have one whole library just for undergrads! Big schools are so weird!

Now, I am the Assistant Director at Shorewood Public Library.

A few important things happened along the way to becoming a librarian, many of them at Lawrence. I’ll use these experiences to give you an idea of what a librarian does, at least this librarian.

I didn’t have one of those highly coveted jobs at the Mudd, but my jobs on campus gave me what turned out to be relevant experience for what I do as a librarian. Editing at The Lawrentian taught me to work strategically with a team, focus my creativity and turn work around quickly for a deadline. Tutoring at the Center for Teaching and Learning taught me to communicate tricky concepts in easy to understand ways, lead by example, and engage the learner in the process. I call on the multi-dimensional education I got at Lawrence when someone asks me for help finding a definition of modernism in poetry, or finding information on African explorers in the New World, or when I select new music for our collection, or when I write and edit library policies and procedures, or when I have to clean up puke. If only I were joking.

When a young woman asked me recently why people started writing books (I can’t make this stuff up), the librarian in me had the patience and forethought to answer her question as simply as I could (no library patron needs to hear a dissertation, but many want to give you one), but it was the Lawrentian in me who had the knowledge and confidence to answer.

By Emily Passey Vieyra, Class of 2008

Alumni Librarians: Kathy Abromeit ’85

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

While a student at Lawrence, I worked in the music library under the supervision of faculty member, Paul Hollinger. At that time, it was a small collection housed in the conservatory, but we all ate up that collection like children in a candy store. Additionally, I was writing an honor’s thesis on Anna Bon, 18th-century composer and her flute sonatas, so I was getting a lot of library time both working in the library and doing extensive research myself. I studied flute with Ernestine Whitman, and both of us were very excited to be exploring Bon’s work. My advisor for the thesis was Professor Marjory Irvin, and she was the one who instilled my love of research, writing, and scholarly discussion. I came to love the hunt for information, and Professor Irvin helped me to understand that the process of research is often not a straight line from where you begin to where you finish, but that it is messy, that it is connected, that and it requires an ability to tolerate ambiguity. I think she was actually teaching me about life without me knowing it at the time!

Following Lawrence, I began graduate school in musicology. I had a teaching assistantship and was on the path to complete a PhD in musicology. To supplement my income, I also got a job in the music library helping with the copy cataloging of sound recordings. Before long I started appreciating the breadth of a typical day in the library. When I would visualize my life as a musicologist, I saw a tube that was somewhat narrow but tremendously deep. When I would visualize my life as a music librarian, the tube was much broader and offered exceptional breadth but not necessarily the depth of a teaching faculty member. I know it’s not that simplistic, but what I learned about myself, from my visualization of the two professions, is that I needed a career path that offered me a full span of knowledge and exploration. Essentially, I needed a big sandbox that included music, research, expansive learning and service, and the ability to influence the canon. It seemed that librarianship could be a viable profession that met the requirements.

In talking with a few librarians and exploring the job market, I decided to switch to the master’s in musicology, rather than the PhD, and apply for library school. I’ve never looked back. It’s been the perfect career choice for me. I work at the Oberlin Conservatory Library, and it is located on the campus of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. It was founded in 1865 and is the second oldest conservatory and oldest continually operating conservatory in the United States. Like Lawrence, Oberlin is a liberal arts college and conservatory of music, the best of both worlds! My daily work in the Oberlin Conservatory Library focuses on public services activities. I spend my days doing information literacy work, conducting research appointments as well as supervising the public services operations of our branch library. It’s a very busy library!

After spending a great deal of time thinking about breadth and depth, my thoughts have changed. My work as a music librarian has afforded me the opportunity to become moderately knowledgeable across a domain, and deeply knowledgeable within a strand of that domain. It has been a profession with a continual learning curve as technology advances and changes. While at times it feels somewhat overwhelming, I appreciate the constant challenge that comes with an ever-changing landscape. I remind myself that I did ask for a large sandbox!

I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with a wide range of musicians and scholars ranging from the undergraduates in the conservatory to the budding rap artist to the chorus member in the Metropolitan Opera to the seasoned soloist who is looking for a bit of information for their award-winning CD.

Librarianship is a meaningful profession that has given me tremendous opportunities, intellectual growth, and created a framework for my professional life. That care started at Lawrence where I was a first-generation college student who needed mentoring and guidance, and Lawrence took great care to develop me as a leader despite me coming from an economically-disadvantaged family. That spirit of support helped me to identify that I too wanted to further social justice in my library and research work. It started with Professor Irvin introducing me to music by women composers. Since that time, my path has taken me through the creation of a large folksong database, co-created with the journal, SingOut!, that indexes anthologies of folksong collections, publishing two reference books on African-American spirituals, and I’m working on a third.

I feel blessed that I had the faculty trifecta of Paul Hollinger, Ernestine Whitman, and Marjory Irvin along with Dean Colin Murdoch to launch me on my way and teach me, in the Lawrence way, to engage, develop multiple interests, and give back to my community.

By Kathy Abromeit, Class of 1985

You can read Kathy’s honor’s project in Lux, our institutional repository.

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Alumni Librarians: Kasie Janssen ’12

My path to librarianship has felt fluid and fated in many ways.  With a multidisciplinary approach to a career in libraries, it is no wonder Lawrence has had such a huge impact on my path.  I have always been a lover of books, spending much of my childhood and adult life immersed in literature and libraries.  But it was fateful day at Lawrence University that set my sites on the world of books as my career.

That day Julie Lindemann and Johnie Shimon took my Intermediate Photography class to the LU Archives, I place I had never stepped foot in throughout my previous time at Lawrence.  Erin Dix, the University Archivist, had brought out a collection of glass plate slides for our class to look at and study.  She talked about the primary sources overflowing the archives and the unique ways such collections came to their Lawrence home.  The best way I can describe that experience of being surrounded by history in those archives… wonderment.  The glass slides tapped into a nostalgia and appreciation so deep it became a day and experience I would ever forget.

But that day came and went.  While memorable and important looking back, I was not as sure of what I wanted out of life as I began wrapping up my time at Lawrence.  After graduating in 2012 with a BA in English and a minor in Studio Art, I spent two years moving around, trying different jobs, and feeling incredibly unsatisfied.  And I know I cannot be the only one to have these post-graduation blues and trials.  After lots of ups-and-downs in my career path (mostly downs it seemed like at the time), I decided to tap back into that day in the archives.  If I could not access a fulfilling career with the credentials I had, it was time to change those credentials.

I applied to six different library programs throughout the United States, and subsequently visited three in person.  And to assist in learning more about libraries and archives while I applied, I went back to Lawrence to volunteer with Erin Dix in the University Archives.  I loved having an excuse to visit campus each week, and loved even more the amount of skills and information I was able to learn from Erin while I worked with her.

I ended up with an acceptance letter to the top library program in the country, in a small town I had never heard of prior to sending in my application, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (yes, quite the mouthful).  But it was not just the high credentials of the program that drew me to UIUC.  My in-person visit assured my of the breadth and depth the program had to offer.  Not only would I leave after two years with my Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS, we library-folk love our acronyms), but I could do it by catering the program to my interests in the fields (there is that multidisciplinary approach coming back in).  On top of the academic love for the program I was just accepted to, I also received a Graduate Assistantship in Conservation.  Now, I had never even heard of conservation, but what I learned brought back that archives-wonderment feeling.  A job that blended books, archives, libraries, and art… yes, yes please.

My experience in the conservation lab was nothing short of amazing.  I was able to work alongside of incredibly talented and knowledgeable people in the field who offered me insight and training.  I was able to work on historical items ranging from the papers of Gregor Mendel to an Ian Fleming collection and beyond.  Gaining this incredible work experience alongside of a strong and vast library education gave my career-searching heart everything it was looking for and more.

But graduate school comes to an end all too quickly, and so began a carer-hunt extravaganza.  Months of applications, resumes, and cover letters took over any speck of free time that I had while finishing up my grad program.  All that work paid off when I took on my current job at the Newberry Library in Chicago as their Conservator for Special Projects.  At the Newberry I am greatly involved in the treatment and preparation of the many items that go on exhibit every year, while also continually working on treatment for the vast and varied collections the library houses. (Seriously, these collections are amazing. Next time you are in Chicago, stop by for a visit, the Newberry is free and open to the public, that means you!)  Honestly, it is a dream job.  It blends my interests of literature and art perfectly.  Every day I go to work the library offers new and interesting challenges that bring amazing historic items across my bench.  And it is a career that means I will be continually learning—learning new treatments, seeking new insights from other professionals in the field, researching collections and their uses in the library—which means my career will be a constant source of inspiration and enjoyment.

When I started my education at Lawrence I did not foresee where it would lead me, but as I look back from my bench at the Newberry I see a clear path of how I got here.  Libraries have so much to offer, and I hope that there are many future librarians sitting in Lawrence’s classes today.

By Kasie Janssen, Class of 2012

Alumni Librarians: Sarah Slaughter ’13

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

Like many people who’ve found their career in libraries, I didn’t start out thinking I was going to be a librarian. I was a typical Lawrentian in that I had many interests, but I wasn’t sure where they would take me after graduation. As my senior year loomed I was getting anxious about what to do next – I majored in philosophy and German, which while both fascinating, didn’t point me toward a definite career path. Then one day, I was working an afternoon shift at the circulation desk, and I distinctly remember looking around the first floor at all the books and the people studying and thinking, “Hmm, I really like it here.” I decided to follow up on that instinct and started researching librarianship. After reading about grad programs I was still intrigued, so I decided to talk to some real life librarians to find out more.

Hearing the stories of the librarians at the Mudd was what sealed the deal for me. As I listened, I noticed we had a lot in common. They were all multi-interested people with a love for learning and a passion for helping students. They sounded like my kind of people.

The next year, I submitted my application to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) and was ecstatic when I found out I’d been accepted. I graduated from Lawrence in 2013 and started at Madison in the fall. Madison’s program turned out to be a great fit for me, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I had there to get some hands on experience both in my student jobs, and the credit-bearing practicums I completed.

I had the good fortune to work at the Wisconsin Historical Society, as well as at the SLIS Library (that’s right, they have an entire library about libraries). These two jobs were very different, but they taught me just as much about working in libraries as I learned in my classes. At the Historical Society I worked in the periodicals department, checking in magazines and newspapers, and helping with a long-term storage project for their extensive newspaper collection. At the SLIS Library, I worked at the circulation desk, checking out materials, putting things on reserve, and teaching occasional technology workshops for my fellow students as well as those in the distance cohort.

Before grad school I didn’t realize that librarians could also be teachers, but now it’s one of the primary aspects of my job. I learned about teaching in libraries by taking classes on information literacy pedagogy and through an instruction practicum in which I co-taught an online course. I would strongly recommend to any student interested in libraries take advantage of whatever opportunities you can to get some hands on experience. The skills I learned in my practicums and in my student jobs gave me the edge that helped me land my first real library job after graduation.

I now work as the Humanities and Education Librarian at the University of Dubuque, a small private school, only slightly larger than Lawrence. My time is usually spent teaching information literacy in the core curriculum as well as other courses in my liaison areas, helping students one-on-one at the reference desk, and buying materials for the library. I’ve also had the chance at UD to nurture the curiosity I cultivated at Lawrence by doing my own research. Last year I worked on a paper for UD’s character education journal, Character And… about online privacy and character formation. This was especially exciting for me, because it gave me a chance to use the ethics background I gained as a philosophy major.

I’ve been at the University of Dubuque for two years now and I feel extremely lucky to be here. The small college atmosphere is where I feel most at home and I work on a library staff of ten wonderful people who all share the same enthusiasm for their work as I saw in the librarians at the Mudd. My job is different every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I didn’t start out thinking I’d be a librarian, but now that I’m here I can’t believe the idea didn’t occur to me sooner. Librarians are curious about myriad subjects, adept at solving problems, and passionate about helping others. All of these characteristics can also describe Lawrence graduates. In conclusion, for any Lawrentians looking for an enriching career, give libraries a chance. I found my people here, and perhaps you will too.

By Sarah Slaughter, Class of 2013

Alumni Librarians: Natalie Hall ’05

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

From the time I was a little kid, I’ve always said I wanted to be a cellist and if I wasn’t a cellist, I would be a librarian, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized I could do both. Starting at Lawrence, I knew I wanted to do the dual degree program and I wanted to work in the library. On my second day on campus, I went to the library to ask about a job and inquired politely every day until they hired me. I worked at the circulation desk all five years and loved it, particularly the late night closing shifts. I graduated from Lawrence with a B.M. in cello performance and a B.A. in English.
After Lawrence, I went on to Roosevelt University to get a M.M. in cello performance and again found myself working in the library. I had a part-time job in the music library and also a graduate assistantship that turned out to be mostly an orchestra librarian position. I spent hundreds of hours making practice parts and copying bowings, but I found it was a lovely respite from the stress of preparing for my lessons and performances each week.
Over the next 5 years, I built a successful music career, primarily teaching at the Music Institute of Chicago and in the Naperville school districts. I worked my way up to a full teaching load of 40-50 students per week and had enough freelance performance opportunities to keep me satisfied. I was proud of what I’d accomplished, but I was also not entirely happy with where my life was headed. I was spending 15-20 hours a week in my car and the pressure to be “on” all the time was exhausting. It didn’t feel like a sustainable way to live, but I had spent 20 years working toward this goal, so it was hard to imagine a life that didn’t have cello at the center of it. As I considered my options, I kept coming back to how much I’d loved working in the library at Lawrence and then later at Roosevelt.
I reached out to Antoinette Powell and Cindy Patterson at Lawrence, since I’d been close with them while working at the library and we had stayed in touch. They were both very supportive and just the boost I needed to make the decision to go back to school for a second masters and become a librarian. I enrolled at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies in 2010 and finished my Master of Library and Information Science degree in 2012.
Even with all of my prior library experience, it took some time to get my first post-MLIS job. After years of hearing I needed a backup plan if I was going to be a musician, the irony of having cello as my contingency plan was pretty funny. Eventually, I got my first job as a music cataloger at Roosevelt University. It was just a three month temporary position, but it helped me decide that my interests as a librarian were not so much music librarianship as I’d assumed, but cataloging, metadata, and technical services. From there, I got a job as part-time cataloger at Moraine Valley Community College.
Initially, I hadn’t planned on staying at Moraine Valley for very long given that it was a part-time position, but I quickly realized that it was a wonderful place to work. When a full-time position managing Technical Services opened up, I was thrilled and fortunate to get the job. I’ve been the Technical Services Coordinator there for about 2 ½ years and it is such a good fit for my skills and interests. As a department manager, I get to do a little bit of everything and have a lot of autonomy. It’s never boring, there’s always database clean-up work to do, and new problems to solve.
I’ve also been putting my former teaching skills to work by teaching two college courses: a graduate cataloging course, Organization of Knowledge at Dominican University’s School of Information Studies and Introduction to Cataloging for LTA students at the College of DuPage. I also regularly teach some short term continuing education courses for librarians on cataloging topics through Library Juice Academy, a professional development site for library staff. And, of course, I still play the cello, but now it’s mostly for fun.
It may have taken me a while to figure out this is the career for me, but it’s really the process to get here that made it possible. I think many of the skills that have helped me to be a successful librarian, manager, and college instructor are directly attributable to skills I developed and honed as a musician. For any Lawrentian considering pursuing a career in librarianship, I would encourage them to try to get some library experience before completing their degree. I’d also recommend while in library school to take classes in both reference and cataloging, even if you’re sure you only want to work in one area or the other. Some schools no longer require students to take them, but even if you don’t end up in a position where you use either routinely, they will still help you be a better librarian. And finally, be flexible and open to the opportunities that come your way as you may be surprised at where your interests and experiences will lead.

By Natalie Hall, Class of 2005

Alumni Librarians: Evan Meszaros ’07

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Just in time for reunion, here’s another in a series. 

Libraries and librarian interests, responsibilities, and compulsions have been present throughout my life, from the weekends I’d volunteer for the Friends of the Library booksale in my hometown to the Borders Books job I held following my time at Lawrence. It was during that formative interim at LU, however, where I learned firsthand what an academic library is all about.

The first time I set foot in the Mudd was during freshman orientation. There was a tour being offered and, unbeknownst to me, the handful of first years who actually attended the tour were entered into a drawing for a prize. I remember how surprised I was to have won a gift certificate to Lombardi’s Steakhouse—the first (and one of the few) times I’ve won anything substantial in a drawing! The real prize, though, turned out to have been the work-study position at the Mudd I secured shortly thereafter and which would last four years, expose me to all manner of library operations responsibilities, and introduce me to a lot of great coworkers.

While my job at the Mudd was stable and abiding throughout my LU career, my academic pursuits were all over the map. I entered LU having done well in an AP Biology course, but decided to explore other disciplines (e.g. philosophy, history, anthropology, etc.) that I’d otherwise had little or no exposure to in high school. The mad dash in my junior and senior years to pull-off a biology major didn’t quite work out, so I switched to a “natural science interdisciplinary” major—a decision I’d happily make again. With the rich variety of science courses I ended up taking, I was able to sample from a fuller menu of academic disciplines while still ultimately getting accepted into a graduate program in biology.

Another work-study position I held—this one during grad school at Case Western Reserve University—was one that required me to organize and manage medical records, microscope slides, and patients’ tissue biopsies for a dermatopathology lab at a university-affiliated hospital. It was only when looking back on the commonalities of these library and librarian-like experiences I’d had, in addition to my penchant for “academic tourism,” that, after completing an MS and working for three years in a molecular biology lab, I decided to switch things up and enter the academic library world.

I couldn’t have done this alone, and I thankfully didn’t have to. Friends and fellow Lawrence alumni Steve and Emily Flynn stayed in contact with me throughout their time at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and beyond, providing me with much guidance during my transition. In the spring of 2014—and with the help and advice of the Flynns and other Lawrentian librarians—I was accepted into UW–Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies.

Fast-forward almost three years, and, while I’m still working on my library degree, I’ve had the tremendously good fortune to hold a full-time librarian position at my (other) alma mater, Case Western, where I’m a Research Services Librarian at the university’s Kelvin Smith Library (also since 2014). In this position, I support the Department of Biology, along with two other science departments and the Institute for the Science of Origins. My responsibilities range from academic subject liaising and collection management to reference and classroom instruction.

Learning the ropes of the academic library profession on the job while simultaneously taking courses in library science has been very illuminating. It also has its perks: when you’re a student, you get opportunities to apply for scholarships and student pricing on most professional development offerings, so conferences, workshops, and memberships are more affordable during this period than they’ll ever be. To any LU students who are planning on entering the library profession: take advantage of these! Even if you’re not working while you’re in school, you’ll still set the foundation of your library career through the networking and volunteering you’ll do. The people you meet meet may be your future bosses, coworkers, friends… or even significant others! (It’s true—I met my librarian-fiancée at the very first library conference I attended!)

As I write this, I’m a week out from attending my 10-year LU reunion. And after those ten years since leaving LU, I’d say I’ve finally found my calling—even if the message didn’t come across distinctly or coherently sooner. While I’d hesitate to discourage any Lawrentians from following their own path of self-discovery after graduating, I would urge them, if they’re even remotely inclined to the profession, to at least consider a future in librarianship. For those who have found themselves similarly drawn to libraries, learning, and helping others learn, the profession has a great deal to offer you.

By Evan Meszaros, Class of 2007

Alumni Librarians: Emily Alinder Flynn ’09

EmilyEditor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there. Here’s another in a series.

I got hooked on libraries while working in technical (tech) services at the Mudd Library freshman year at LU and haven’t looked back since. Besides labeling new print books and DVDs, I corrected errors in the online catalog to ensure people could find what they looked for and also shelved rare and special books in the Lincoln Reading Room and Milwaukee-Downer Room. I enjoyed organizing the library but truly loved making sure people could find what they needed with everything being where it should be. In my current job, part of it includes correcting errors and fixing links for eResources which are essential since eBooks and eJournals cannot be stumbled upon like a physical book that is misshelved.

As I neared graduation, I researched graduate programs in library science and ended up at the University of Michigan, a School of Information that offers lots of technology courses in the same degree. Learning coding, database management, heuristic evaluation, etc., in addition to library science has proven to be useful in my career. My first professional job was at ProQuest, cataloging eBooks for Safari Books Online which is mostly computer science and technology related. Cataloging describes the contents of an item and creates a record in an online catalog so that people can find the information and items. LU prepared me as an analytical thinker, furthered my intellectual curiosity, and inspired me to be my best self at all times. All of these traits serve me well as a technology-savvy, detail-oriented librarian.

For current students thinking about a career in libraries, my first piece of advice is to work in one. This sounds basic but it’s the best way to tell not only if you want to work in libraries but to determine what you want to do, and sometimes what you don’t want to do which is also important.  Experience working in libraries will make you a stronger candidate for library jobs. Also, the best part about libraries today is the variety of jobs and areas that are available. I currently work at OhioLINK, which is a consortium of 121 Ohio academic libraries and the State Library of Ohio that share materials and purchase eContent together which allows students and faculty to have access to many more resources. In addition to cataloging, I manage an electronic theses and dissertations submission website for 30 of our member libraries. One of my librarian friends works as a curator of children’s literature. Another is a studio librarian, helping students create research and projects with media and software. There are opportunities in government facilities, corporations, museums, and so much more. There truly is something for everyone, you just have to look.

By Emily Alinder Flynn, Class of 2009

Alumni Librarians: Wendy Pradt Lougee ’72

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there. Here’s another in a series.
Lougee_photo

From liberal arts context to a research institution in 40 years… my career has been an interesting journey, reflecting some of the seismic changes in information, publishing, and technology.  I wish I could convey that I heard a clear call to librarianship when I graduated from Lawrence in 1972 with an English major (and good liberal arts education). Rather, an older sister (also English major) was a librarian with Time Warner in New York, and her experiences helping with research for reporters around the globe sounded appealing. Perhaps, too, the focus on sound skills in inquiry and writing that Lawrence embraced had an impact in selecting a career path. Diploma in hand, I headed to UW-Madison for its library science masters program.

A year later, post-UW grad school, found me working at the University of Minnesota in the South Asian Library, unprepared for the diverse languages and narrow focus.  Since academic librarianship seemed an interesting arena, I returned to graduate school in psychology at the University of Minnesota, considering a future as a psychology specialist within a university library. The next stages of my career took me first to another small liberal arts college (Wheaton College in Massachusetts) and then to Brown University Library, where I developed collections and supported faculty in social science disciplines.

A recruitment call from University of Michigan launched the research university chapter in my career and introduced me to university administration, first as an Assistant to the University Library Director (an intern type role) and later as Director of the Graduate (main) Library.  In the early 1990’s when campuses were wrestling with the early promise of distributed computing, I had the unique opportunity to launch a fledgling digital library program, an endeavor to seize the opportunities that technology afforded for information delivery and for developing digital content and programs.  It was a heady time, and Michigan took an early lead in the international arena of digital information initiatives.  Projects ensued to digitize books and journals, create retrieval systems, address diverse needs ranging from art images to biological specimen collections, and much more — often in partnership with other institutions and fueled by many grants.  Concurrently, the commercial publishing world began to dramatically step up its development of digital publication, and I oversaw the policy, infrastructure, and service dimensions of acquiring and delivering digital content at Michigan.  The experience was expansive and challenging and brought national recognition for our pioneering work.

In 2002, I headed to another U of M, back to University of Minnesota as University Librarian and McKnight Presidential Professor, overseeing a system of 14 libraries, historically rich collections, and a very large distributed staff.  Here, too, the burgeoning digital environment grew dramatically, and we’ve been recognized for innovative technology programs and service models that support digital data intensive research and learning/teaching that employs online digital content and tools.

An increasing imperative for academic libraries is to work collectively with other institutions to realize models to share resources and to gain efficiency in serving our individual campuses.  I’ve been deeply engaged in these trends within the Big 10 academic consortium known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and more broadly.  I’ve been privileged, too, to serve on various national boards: the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Digital Library Federation, the HathiTrust, and Association of Research Libraries.   All of these organizations address the knowledge environment writ large – that is, far more than physical collections and place-based services that used to define bricks and mortar libraries.

Back in the 1970’s when I left Lawrence, could I imagine leading a large library organization and working within complex consortia to address mutual interests? The answer is quite simply, no.  Yet, I believe the investments made in those years at Lawrence to nurture a strong liberal arts background, to gain perspective on social issues, and to imagine roles of global citizenship provided an energizing start to a career in the “knowledge business.”   I consider libraries a critical player in the knowledge environment of higher education, and I’ve been fortunate to be engaged in leadership roles within that context.

Wendy Pradt Lougee
University Librarian
McKnight Presidential Professor
University of Minnesota

Alumni Librarians: Kirstin Jansen Dougan, ’95

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there. Here’s another in a series.dougan_photo

Even as a small child, I loved the idea of investigating things—Harriet the Spy and the Hardy Boys were my heroes. By junior high, the idea of collecting information was extremely appealing. Crush on the new boy in school? Research! Where did he come from, what did his parents do, what kind of car did they drive? Silly, yes, but it carried over to school. I loved researching school projects (the writing, not so much). In high school, my youth orchestra director tasked me with being the group’s librarian, since he thought I was responsible and organized. I also started a love affair with technology—computers—especially.

By the time I got to Lawrence as a viola performance major, I was ready for the wonders that awaited me in the Seeley G. Mudd. When I wanted to learn the origins of a word, I went to one of the reference librarians (now director) Pete Gilbert. He showed me how to use the Oxford English Dictionary (just in print at that point). Shortly after that, my sophomore music history class had a session with the music librarian, the great Eunice Schroeder, and was assigned a follow-up scavenger hunt using the DOS based library catalog to find music materials. It was so much fun! The power to know how to search correctly and find what I needed—my investigative and information collecting tendencies were thrilled. If I remember correctly, one of the other students who did well on that assignment was Colleen Rortvedt, now director of the Appleton Public Library.

Sophomore year also saw me taking on the job as librarian for the LUSO. I loved the duties, ordering, marking, and organizing the music for each season. But I didn’t care for the deadlines and eraser bits that permeated my wardrobe. Since I knew I wasn’t likely to make a full-time living as a performer, and I wasn’t interested in teaching, I started wondering what else I could do with a music background and a love for information. I knew I didn’t want a job where I sat at a desk all day (no, librarians don’t do that!). I talked to Eunice, who suggested that working in an academic library would be a good fit. I was already taking German and French in addition to my music history and theory classes, lessons and such), so I kept at it until it was time to think about graduate school. I’m not sure I knew that I would need a second masters in music to be a good candidate for many academic library positions, but I knew I wasn’t ready to stop my viola education. So long story short, I went to grad school for viola performance and paid my way by being the orchestra librarian—still couldn’t get away from the eraser bits! After a year off to work in an office, in which I learned I really didn’t want to do that, I enrolled in UW Madison’s SLIS. Given the different paths my classmates had taken, I felt a bit conspicuous as one who had wanted to be a librarian early on. But I was fortunate to get various GA positions, first in the University Records Office (part of the Archives), then at College Library, and finally with the Digital Content Group, where my love of technology and data structures grew. Throughout I held an hourly position at the music library, working at the reference desk, processing archival collections, and other tasks.  I took several independent studies with the music librarians to supplement my classwork.

After graduating I stayed with the Digital Content group for a year and half, before taking a job as a music librarian at Duke University. I was responsible for reference, instruction, collection development, web site maintenance and staff supervision. After two years my boss retired, so I became the interim head for two years. I then left to take the job I have now as the Music and Performing Arts Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. We are one of the largest libraries in the country and I love my job. I (along with the head of our branch library) do many of the same things I did at Duke, but in addition, librarians here are on the tenure track. This means that I also research and write articles. I focus on information seeking behavior in music and the tools used in music research, as well as the collections and services that connect these. My love of research and information gathering has come full circle.

by Kirstin (Jansen) Dougan, Class of ’95